Why I became an estate planner
FIRSTLY, let me introduce myself. Chances are, you have not heard of me before or for that matter, my line of work. I am a retiree, an estate planner and a former columnist of The Star.
An estate planner is not someone who is into real estate. No, that would be a person who deals with the buying and selling of properties. An estate planner’s function is to help a person plan the future distribution of his personal wealth so that when he passes on in the future, his affairs will have been pretty well planned out already with a will or a trust deed.
It is a highly demanding but satisfying job, and I dare say that there may be only a few thousand estate planners in this country who can really advise people properly. Even then, expertise level may vary from one estate planner to another.
Over here, people generally tend to use the services of estate planners who operate under the banner of the Rockwills group which is the pioneering estate planning company in Malaysia, and I do admit that my ties with them go back a very long time.
Whenever I meet people, there are always the curious among them who ask me how long I have been associated with the company and they are always surprised to learn that both Rockwills and I go back a very long way; to be exact, the year 1995.
That was the year that Rockwills was established. At that time, I was still working with Ban Hin Lee Bank (or to use their more stylised name, BHL Bank). In 1995, it had already been a few years since the bank was listed publicly on the Bursa Malaysia. It wanted to pursue new approaches to modern banking and had identified financial services as its new direction of growth for the future.
As a result, the bank plunged headlong into offering investment services and estate planning services. At that time, though, the term estate planning was still rather unheard of and so, for want of a better alternative, it was called will-writing services.
For the will-writing services, the bank tied up with a new start-up company named Rockwills Corporation Sdn Bhd. Its chairman then, and still the chairman today, is Johari Low.
Rockwills came to the bank, gave its presentation to selected head office staff, and announced the collaboration where the bank’s branches would be at the front line to market will-writing services to its customers.
As I sat at the back of the room absorbing in all the information, I never realised that soon, I would be so closely associated with Rockwills. For starters, the job was given to my unit (sort of like a little department in the bank’s head office) to prepare the operations manual for this service.
For several weeks, my staff and I pored over Rockwills’ own operations manual; we talked and discussed matters and finally came out with the bank’s operations manual for the branches. It was during this process that I realised how much a will could help people in need of services to unlock their loved ones’ estate after they had departed.
Of course, preparing the operations manual wasn’t a one-off activity for my unit. By its very nature, bank operations must change to accommodate the changing environment. So as the branches came back to us with unique problems and questions on the will-writing service, we had to go back to the company for solutions and incorporate them into our own procedures. Personally, it was a good learning process for me.
But I never realised then how eventually, my understanding and believe in this service would lead me to become an estate planner myself.
In 2000, I took the step to immerse myself fully into this service and approached Rockwills to become one of their estate planners. The early years were challenging but with every new case that I worked on, I always learned that there would be something new. After all, there are no two persons on this earth whose needs are identical. Every one of us is actually different.
And through the years, I’m glad that I did take up this profession because my conviction still holds true today: that there are many people who really need this service and I should be doing this to help as many of them as possible, in my own way. Where I was concerned, it was never solely about money in the first place, and it is still never solely about money now.
So right now, when people ask me how long I have been in this estate planning business, I can confidently tell them that my association with Rockwills goes back to 1995. This year is 2015, which means that it has been two decades, of which I have been doing wills and trust deeds for my clients for 15 years.